Last week we published an article that discussed why and how to establish family traditions. Traditions offer numerous benefits: they strengthen your family’s bonds, enrich the life you share together, contribute to your children’s well-being, and create lasting memories. For this reason, they form one of the three pillars of family culture.
Today we offer a list of over 60 specific family tradition ideas. You can incorporate some of these directly into your family, or use them as inspiration for creating your own traditions.
Before we get started, let’s cover a few things that will help ensure that your establishment of new traditions will be met with success:
- While it’s tempting to go crazy with starting lots of traditions, shoot for quality over quantity. If you do a couple from within each category, you’re gold.
- Choose traditions that most resonate with you. Having said that, as you review the list, try not to immediately write off some as silly or not elaborate enough. This isn’t only about what appeals to you as a jaded adult, but what will appeal to your kids. If you think back to your childhood, some surprisingly silly and simple stuff was a lot of fun and created great memories.
- Traditions need to be practiced regularly to be effective. It’s easy to throw a tradition out the window when life gets busy and you’ve had a long day. Commit to the tradition and do your best to be as consistent as possible with it.
The ideas below come from The Book of New Family Traditions, from mine and Kate’s respective families, from our friends’ families, and from those we’ve come up with for our own family.
Daily Connection Traditions
Daily Connection Traditions are the small things you do every day to reinforce family identity and values. Without thought and intentionality, your family’s daily “traditions” can devolve into everyone surfing the internet on their own devices. So be sure to incorporate some rituals that bring you together face-to-face and allow you to re-connect each day.
Secret Handshake. Secret handshakes have been used by groups for millennia to distinguish members and non-members. Make one up for your own family. It can be elaborate and complex or simple but meaningful. An example of the latter comes from a family profiled in The Book of New Family Traditions. This family had the tradition of squeezing each others’ hands three times to signal the three words “I love you.” On the day the daughter got married, the father squeezed her hand three times as he walked her down the aisle. “Only she knew that this was happening, a tiny personal ritual lodged invisibly within one of the grandest and most public, and she says it was one of the most moving moments of her life.”
Family Meal. Countless studies have shown the positive influence that sharing a meal together as a family (it doesn’t have to be dinner) has on children. We’ll be dedicating an entire post to how to get the most out of family meals, but in the meantime, consider these suggestions to turn the breaking of bread into a cherished tradition:
- First: no TV, no cellphones, and no tablets.
- Begin with grace. If you’re not religious, have everyone share something that they’re grateful for that day.
- Family news: everyone takes turns sharing something positive and negative that has happened to them during the day.
- “Got any stories?” This is a tradition that Kate and I have had for a few years. Each person is expected to bring something interesting to the table that they’ve read or heard during the day.
Family Prayer. For religious families, prayer is an important ritual. Family prayer doesn’t have to be just a dinnertime thing. You can pray as a family before everyone leaves in the morning, before everyone goes to bed, or both. Our family has prayers at night. Everyone takes turns saying the prayer, including Gus.
Family Singing Time. There’s something about singing that unites humans on a primal level. What’s more, through song, you can pass on your values and cultural heritage to your children. Our family always sings a song or two when we put Gus to bed. It’s something we’ve done since he was an infant, and you can tell it makes him feel comforted, loved (we often sing songs about being a family), and relaxed. It’s been cool to watch him slowly learn the words and start singing along with us.
I really hope that Gus or Scout is interested in taking piano lessons, as I have a very fond dream of one day standing around the piano singing Christmas carols together.
The “What We Learned Today” Journal. “Buy a fancy, leather-bound journal. Each night before bed, every member of the family needs to write something they learned during the day. Parents can transcribe for little children. Entries don’t have to be long or profound. It can be as simple as, “If you touch a turtle, he puts his head back in his shell.” This is a great way to foster a love of lifelong learning in your children.
Surprise Daily Drawing/Note. There’s a guy here in Tulsa who drew little comics or wrote inspiring quotes on the napkins he put in his daughters’ school lunches. Napkin Dad was born. I want to do something like this when my kiddos start school.
Family Hugs. Kate and I try to get in one family hug a day. Afterwards, we usually put in our hands and say, “Three, two, one,” before lifting them up and shouting “McKays!” Yeah, it’s kind of cheesy, but Gus loves it, and the idea is to really drive home our family identity.
Bedtime Story. Children who have parents that read to them regularly typically do better in school and have larger vocabularies than children who don’t. Reading with your child will not only make them smarter, but it’s a great way to bond. There’s something really comforting about hearing your dad read aloud to you. For inspiration, check out this dad and daughter who read together every night for 3,128 days straight until the daughter was in college.
Evening Walks. Not only can walking help solve problems, but it can also strengthen families. Evening walks are a great time to get some fresh air and digest the day’s events along with your dinner.
Family Call-and-Response Motto. When they were growing up, brothers Jim and John Harbaugh (the coaches of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens respectively) didn’t have much. But their father always made them feel like they had everything they needed. To reinforce this feeling, he would ask his boys, “Who’s got it better than us?” To which they would respond: “Nooo-body!” Jim now uses the same call and response to build the unity of his football team.
Weekly Connection Traditions
Family Game Night. Analog games, from cribbage to Apples to Apples, are a fun and cheap way to bond and have fun together as a family. Tamp the competition down and ramp the laughter up. I personally can’t wait to play Boggle with Gus and Scout.
Movie Night. Let the kids take turns picking a movie to watch, and do an occasional dad’s choice night as well to introduce your progeny to classics like Back to the Future and Raiders of the Lost Ark while waxing poetic about how movies were just plain better in the 80s. Have fun with the snacks too – come up with dad’s special popcorn recipe or occasionally take the kids to the drugstore and let them each pick out their own candy.
Saturday Football. There’s something incredibly relaxing and comforting about watching college football with your family on a Saturday afternoon in the fall. Pass down your alma mater pride as you cheer on your team together.
Pizza Night. Everyone loves pizza, and it’s nice to be able to look forward to having it on a certain night each week. Skip the delivery now and again and make your own – allowing the kids to decide how to top their own super simple mini pizzas.
Don’t like pizza? How about Taco Tuesday? We love Taco Tuesday around here.
Family Home Evening. Mormons are encouraged to set aside one night per week (usually Monday night) for Family Home Evening. A typical Family Home Evening includes a fun activity and a short lesson or devotional on some virtue or scripture. FHE is usually capped off with a special treat.
The goal of Family Home Evening is to teach your children the principles and values you want them to carry with them as adults, all within an informal and loving atmosphere. FHE can be adapted by families of any religious stripe or even families who aren’t religious. There’s no formula for Family Home Evening. Just corral the kids for 30 minutes one night a week for fun, discussion, and eats.
Family Vinyl Dance Party. AoM contributor Cameron Schaefer shared a fun family tradition in his post on getting started in vinyl record collecting. On Friday nights the Schaefer family gathers in their family room for a Vinyl Record Dance Party. A family member selects a soundtrack for the night, and they all dance until they collapse on the floor.
Special Saturday/Sunday Morning Breakfast. Lots of families have special Saturday/Sunday morning breakfast traditions. For some it’s pancakes or cinnamon rolls, for others it’s a giant breakfast casserole. Dads and breakfasts just go together, so work on coming up with your own specialty.
Breakfast need not be a solely in-home tradition, however. I take Gus to Braum’s every Saturday morning for breakfast. Pancakes and milk for Gus. Sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit for dad. We’ve been doing this since Gus was about 10 months old, and we’ve rarely missed a Saturday. It’s a hoot to see Gus get all excited about “Breakfast at Braum’s” on Friday night.
Dinner & Grocery Shopping. Every Monday we go as family to a grocery store that also has their own little restaurant. We eat dinner there first and then do our shopping. Doesn’t sound really exciting, but we all look forward to it.
Weekly Family Meeting. Your family is an organization. And like any successful organization, you need to plan, discuss issues, and synchronize schedules. Enter the weekly family meeting. I’ll be dedicating an entire post on how to run a successful family meeting in the future. Stay tuned.